669. Livin’ La Pura Vida

Original airdate: November 17, 2019

The premise: Marge is thrilled to finally get invited to the Van Houten’s annual multi-family vacation to Costa Rica, hoping to have a perfect family vacation to flaunt via social media. Also tagging along is Patty and her new girlfriend, who surprisingly finds a kindred spirit in Homer. Meanwhile, Lisa frets about expensive this tropical vacation will be, and tries to uncover how the Van Houtens can afford it in the first place. Also, Chalmers and Shauna are there too and she gets engaged to Jimbo or whatever.

The reaction: As that longer-than-normal plot summary will tell you, this episode tries to juggle like three and a half stories with a bunch of different characters, when really it would have been better suited to focus on just one, with maybe like a light B-plot. We start with Marge losing her shit about finally being asked by Luann to go with them on their big annual Costa Rica trip (why she was never asked before, given Bart and Milhouse have been friends for many years, is unclear). She’s desperate for some excitement in her life (didn’t we go through this last week?), specifically wanting a picture perfect moment to post about Instaface, or whatever the Instagram knock-off app is called. Making her paranoid about manufacturing the perfect, calculated moment to show off online rather than actually enjoying the experience in the present is an interesting idea, and one that feels in-character for Marge, but the emotions and the story beats are given little room to breathe and develop because we have to cut back and forth to these other different stories and other characters. Also potentially intriguing is Patty’s new relationship with Evelyn, a Southern woman who quickly becomes Homer’s drinking buddy, leaving Patty shocked that she shacked up with a Homer of her own. Patty discovering she’s dating her worst fear, again, seems like it’d make for an interesting story, but we never see her and Evelyn have one conversation with each other, so we really don’t know anything about them, or why we should really care. There’s also this “mystery” as to how the Van Houtens can afford such a lavish vacation, and there’s a “shocking” reveal at the end that really doesn’t matter. Most confusingly of all is Superintendent Chalmers and his daughter Shauna, who throughout the episode, have short little scenes where Chalmers tries to connect to the aloof teenager who is glued to her phone, video-calling her boyfriend Jimbo. The two act breaks feature her aghast that Jimbo is cheating on him, then later him proposing to her, and we end on her dismissively saying they broke it off. Meanwhile, Chalmers is desperately trying to connect to his kid, and the tiny bit of it we see kind of feels like it could be going somewhere (“I’m doing my best, you understand? As a single father, it’s not always so easy to balance guidance with respect…”) But I dunno, I guess the joke is that he perpetually gets nowhere with Shauna who just blows him off because she’s on her phone, because she’s an awful character who has never been funny. But this relationship could have developed into something if it weren’t treated as a joke. Same with Patty and her girlfriend, the Van Houtens, Milhouse acting as toady to Dr. Hibbert’s teenage son rather than Bart, these story threads, given the right amount of care, could have developed into something new and interesting. Instead, they were all crammed into one script, and none of them had a chance to get off the ground. Nothing in this show was especially terrible, but it had a whole cargo full of missed potential.

Three items of note:
– There’s a brief running gag of Homer imagining Evelyn’s southern-isms in thought bubbles visually, but none of them are really jokes (“hotter than a two dollar pistol,” “Does a mama possum skip church on Sunday?”) It reminded me of asinine thought bubble gags of Homer imagining “pistol whipping” as eating Cool Whip with a handgun, or mishearing “financial planner” as “financial panther.” Those were dumb as hell, but at least I understood them as jokes. These function as Evelyn endearing herself to Homer, I guess, but it doesn’t feel like they work they way they should.
– The big reveal at the end is that the Costa Rican estate was actually inherited by Kirk and Luann, so every year, they’ve been charging the families they bring with them to pay for their vacation. We see and hear about a lot about a lot of outside activities, lavish dinners and other such expensive they all participate in, so I guess the only thing is that the Van Houtens are trumping up their “bill” to the other families for lodging to cover their own expenses. But I don’t get why no one knows how much this trip costs until the very end. I guess the idea is to distract you from the cost by thinking about how irreplaceable the experience is, which Marge communicates to Homer in bed to convince him to go, but I feel like it would have made more sense if Kirk or Luann pushed this line to further trick their friends into going.
– Kirk gets a lot of screen time here, where he’s kind of just like a huge douche, acting like a cool Costa Rican native, hoarding workout powder in his room he never actually uses, and discovered to have some very interesting bedtime reading material (“Protecting the White Male: America’s Most Endangered Species”). I remember “There Will Be Buds” tried to spearhead this new characterization of Kirk, where he was a meek, sadsack loser, but also a bit of a dick, asking Homer a bunch of weird sexual questions and trying to bro down with him or some shit. I don’t know, I want to give credit for them trying to flesh out a tertiary character like Kirk, but like so much of this episode, it feels very underdeveloped. It just makes me wonder why Luann is still with this weirdo. But then again, we find out that scamming the families out of money was her idea, so I guess the both of them are awful people.

One good line/moment: Over the last decade or so, there have been numerous explicit references that are very specific to the Los Angeles area that have always felt very annoying, considering this show is supposed to take place in bumfuck nowhere Springfield, USA. Even though I live in LA, just because I recognize this allusion to a local famous deli or talk about how the traffic sucks or some shit, it doesn’t mean I automatically laugh at it. But in this episode, they got me. They fucking got me. Homer rightfully wonders how in the fuck Kirk is able to pay for this trip every year, explaining, “His job is moving the Topless Maids van so they don’t get parking tickets!” The pink Topless Maids van is kind of infamous to the area; my wife and I would always see it past the Warner Bros. lot on Barham, to the point that we would be shocked if it wasn’t there on a certain day. We’ve seen it around other places, and just recently I see it all the time right by the McDonald’s in North Hollywood, almost like it followed me on my new commute. So this very specific reference got a surprise laugh out of me, only because it’s tied to an inside joke between my wife and I.

9 thoughts on “669. Livin’ La Pura Vida

  1. Man, this episode is like watching a vacation slideshow by Patty or Selma; or better yet, a vacation slideshow by the writers of this episode wanting their viewers to learn about their recent trip to Costa Rica… So THAT’S why Zombie Simpsons has so many damn travel episodes!

    STOP BRINGING SHAUNA BACK! I HATE HER SHE AWFUL STOP TRYING TO DEVELOP HER SHE IS LITERALLY THE CRAZY CAT LADY OF THIS DECADE IS THERE ANY PEOPLE WHO WOULD WATCH THIS THAT WOULD ACTUALLY LIKE HER okay, okay, I’ll stop…

    1. It’s funny because it reminded you of that moment from the episode Flaming Moe’s where Patty and Selma had a boring vacation slideshow. You are right about one thing, Shauna is an awful character.

  2. Um… I’m hesitant to admit this but I actually do like Shauna. I know she’s not the best character but she fills a neat little niche of her own on the show, has a distinctive voice and a potentially interesting/amusing relationship with her dad.

    That said even as fan her use here was bizarre. In an already overstuffed episode she (and Chalmers) had too much screentime to merely be gags and too little to be an actual functioning sideplot.

    1. I kinda like her too. In fact, I kinda wish they’d use her more sometimes… if only so they’d have a teenage character to use in these teenage plots and stop trying to write Bart and Lisa as older. This was actually a step in the right direction, but as you said, it was too much to be a gag and too little to be a good sideplot (though I did like that the monkeys reacted to her “dilemma” the worst).

  3. I watched this episode today so I can say I have watched all of Season 31 (planning to do a video review on my channel) and it wasn’t terrible. There were a couple of jokes that really got a laugh out of me, such as the end when you see El Barto could out of the forest among a few other tidbits. Homer had a few good moments in this episode too.

    I do have to agree that we never saw Patty and her girlfriend interact with each other at all, making it hard to care about their relationship. In fact, I thought that was the least interesting plot of the episode. I just didn’t care about them.

    The Shawna and Chalmers plot did nothing for me either, but I get what they were trying for, so I’m fine with that.

    Maybe it’s because of how lifeless the season finale was, but this was definitely one of the better episodes of the season.

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